Must we always kneel when we pray?

Questions such as yours arise because Mrs. White said that kneeling is the “proper position always.” But how do we understand that “always”? There are, indeed, statements from Mrs. White that speak approvingly of prayers offered in other positions, especially standing up. Is she contradicting herself?

I believe that a closer look will reveal there is no contradiction here at all. The situation Mrs. White was addressing when she insisted on kneeling was the congregational prayer before the sermon. Here is what she said.

One who has been educated for about five years in Battle Creek was asked to lead in prayer before Sister White should speak to the people. But as I beheld him standing upright upon his feet while his lips were about to open in prayer to God, my soul was stirred within me to give him an open rebuke. Calling him by name, I said, “Get down upon your knees.” This is the proper position always (Selected Messages, 2:311).

Let us not try to make Mrs. White’s statement to one situation apply to all others. The “always” here, as I understand it, applies to the main prayer for the congregation during the worship service. It does not apply to other situations, as other statements she made indicate—situations such as “when you are walking, and when you are busy with your daily labor” (The Ministry of Healing, 511).

When we present the congregation before the One Mrs. White calls “the Sovereign of the universe,” or for that matter, in our private prayers, the kneeling position properly represents our status as His subjects; it instills in us a sense of our own smallness and weakness, and it shows respect for One who is much greater than we and is “high and lifted up.” It acknowledges our dependence on Him. What excuse do we have for not kneeling before Him in the church service when we come to present our petitions formally before Him? This, I believe, is the point Mrs. White was making. But other prayers, for other purposes and in other settings, may be offered in other positions. Thus, the Bible speaks, for instance, of Nehemiah offering a quick prayer for guidance while he stood before the king of Persia, who had asked him a question and was waiting for his reply. Such prayers are fine in Mrs. White’s view.

Thus, the fact that Mrs. White allowed for other positions in prayer on other occasions does not, in my understanding, present a contradiction to her assertion that kneeling “is the proper position always” for one who is representing the congregation in the main prayer of the service.